Friday, November 13, 2009

Sgt Pfeffer taught the band to play

It's been twenty years, apparently, since the Berlin Wall, fell. I have to admit, I missed that particular holiday. I mean, admittedly, it was the most obvious sign that the largest communist empire in history was collapsing, but in the larger sense, the failure to enforce the integration of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1969 and 1971 was probably the item that led to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union, but really, since that's far too deep a consideration of history for the average Republican, we should probably just ignore any deeper truths and go back to the fall of the Berlin Wall (of course, to be entirely truthful, the Soviet Union was never communist, but don't try to explain that to a Republican - their brains will explode).

So, um... woo-hoo.

(Did I mention how big a fan I am of the run-on sentence?)

Anyway, it was November 9, 1989. Roughly two years and five months earlier, Reagan had made his famous "Mister Gorbachev! Tear down this wall!" speech. Which, in the end, had absolutely nothing to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, as any reasonable person could figure out. (But, again, don't try to tell a Republican that.)

Shortly after David Hasselhoff celebrated the fall of the Wall, I came back to the Fatherland. I was stationed in Spangdahlem, Germany from 1990 through 1997.

When we arrived in-country, the bloom was seriously fading from the rose. People had reunited with family they'd (for the most part) never met, David Hasselhoff was still putting out bad albums (although mostly without wearing his multicolored electric coat), and life, as it tends to do, was continuing on, regardless of the life or death of a political ideal.

The biggest job faced by the German people was most obviously demonstrated by driving west-to-east (with a slight northern tilt) across the country. Beautiful countryside, charming villages, grass, trees, well-maintained roads... fading gradually to yellowish-green grass, dying trees (if any at all), open-pit mines (mostly for soft coal), roads in disrepair, towns of blocky concrete buildings.

People were leaving the former East Germany for anything resembling a job, anywhere else in the country. The most obvious symbol of the ex-Communist country's industry, aside from the staggering pollution they left in their wake, was a blocky little car called the Trabant. Powered by a two-cylinder chainsaw engine, the former East Germans would drive them as far as they could, and then sell the vehicle for whatever they could get (frequently, the damned little toy cars would break down by the side of the road... sorry, by the side of the autobahn, and the owner would abandon them where they fell and continue on).

American troops in Frankfurt and Munich, looking for a cheap car (or "beater") would frequently buy two Trabants: since they could be had for as low as $50, you'd buy the second one for spare parts. (Occasionally, you ended up only able to assemble one functioning model from the two cars anyway, so it worked out pretty well for the new owner...)

One of the main disadvantages of the Trabant would have to be the way you'd refuel it — open the hood, add gas and 2-stroke oil to the 6-gallon engine, and swish it around to mix it.

A lot of people got in the habit of keeping a gas can of pre-mixed fuel in their trunk, because if you drove a Trabant, the chance of bursting into flame was only one of many things you had to worry about.

There weren't actually a lot of those in Spangdahlem, though, since we were just about as far from the former East Germany as you could get. Few of them survived to make it that far.

I'm vaguely curious how much of the shredded DDR they've managed to recover. Not curious enough to actually look it up. But those are my memories of the time.

1 comment:

The Real World said...

That is an awesome coat.